What pastoral care looks like


Here’s a great illustration for deeper discussion about pastoral ministry:  

“Roberta (not her real name) is a bright woman in her forties with a highly charged emotional attachment to Jesus. Roberta loves to sing in church, and her passion for worship infuses those around her with a desire to know God more deeply. Unfortunately, Roberta’s family background has set her on an apparently irreversible course to relational confusion and heartache. After a failed marriage, Roberta lived with a sister for more than a decade, spending hours each week involved in various charitable causes. The sister’s death brought to the surface a host of family and financial crises.”

“Roberta’s grief process was highly intensified due to years of dysfunctional family relationships. She was dangerously despondent. It was clear to us that Roberta needed outside help in order to gain a proper perspective on herself and the world around her. Roberta’s current money problems were only the latest in a history of such fiscal fiascoes, suddenly intensified by a squabble with her surviving siblings over their sister’s estate.”

“Roberta is loved and highly appreciated by our church family. Our leaders sincerely desired to do something tangible to help Roberta get on her feet again, both emotionally and economically. We offered to meet the most pressing financial needs immediately. But we knew that our assistance would benefit Roberta only if accompanied by several nonnegotiable conditions.”

“We informed Roberta that the money would be hers if she met three conditions. (1) She would see our staff [counselor] (initially at the church’s expense) on a weekly basis in order to find short-term support and guidance in dealing with the loss of her sister. (2) She would meet with a financial adviser who is a member of our congregation (again, pro bono) to come up with a game plan to dig herself out of debt. (3) She would agree to attend church regularly and partner with others in the church family in some area of ministry.”

“What we asked of Roberta was really quite straightforward: relational accountability. We challenged Roberta to quit trying to find her way through life as an isolated individual and, instead, to take advantage of the guidance, community, and accountability offered by her brothers and sisters in the family of God. Only in this way would Roberta begin to grow up to become the healthy person God had designed her to be.”

“Roberta declined our offer and rejected our advice. Like many people in our churches, she chose to chart her own course and to bear her pain alone rather than to integrate herself into the body of Christ through the vehicle of strong relational accountability. We no longer see Roberta at Oceanside Christian Fellowship anymore.”

American Individualism and a Church in Crisis

“A story like Roberta’s impacts more than just the individual involved; it takes its toll on a whole church family. On more than one occasion I spent a great deal of time with Roberta on the phone as the above crisis unfolded. We also dedicated an hour or so of our elder board’s precious meeting time in our efforts to carefully craft the three conditions (see above) for the financial assistance that she requested.”

“We have free assistance available through professional counselors and financial planners who are graciously willing to donate their time. And we have a church body ready to receive and encourage anyone willing to embrace our oversight and our guidelines. But Roberta benefited from none of these resources since she foolishly chose to sort out her problems on her own, apart from input from her brothers and sisters in Christ. And we are all the worse for it” (Joseph Hellerman, “When the Church was a family”).


Resolving conflicts among Christians

We must be realistic about our expectations of life in a fallen world. While conducting our relationships with humble integrity, we must not be unrealistic about differences and difficulties that threaten peace between people — even among those who care deeply about each other. This is a truth that must be taught more clearly in the Church.

Jesus clearly anticipated fractures in Christian fellowship and taught us how to resolve them (Matthew 5:23-24;Matthew 18:15ff). We should not be surprised by them but ready to seek reconciliation.

These fractures are very different from the many minor grievances that should be immediately covered in love (I Peter 4:8) or from non-essential matters that should never be permitted to cause conflict in the Church (Romans 14:1-3). Believers must be mature on such matters.

But when sin divides Christian fellowship, a Church must understand the difference between personal forgiveness and reconciling a broken relationship. It’s possible to forgive someone without offering immediate reconciliation. It’s possible for forgiveness to occur in the context of one’s relationship with God apart from contact with an offender (Joseph being a great example). Reconciliation is about restoring broken relationships.

Forgiveness itself is not whitewashing or pretending a wrong never happened when the offense has driven a wedge between people. Forgiveness doesn’t require us to neutralize our sense of justice. The very act itself takes seriously the offense. But forgiveness does involve a surrender of desires for revenge. As such, it is an act of worship in the presence of the God who forgives our sins because it acknowledges God’s sole right to punish the offender (see: Genesis 5:15-20Romans 12:17-21). Forgiveness thus frees us from grudge-bearing vindictiveness and conversely empowers us to love our enemies as God loved us (Romans 5:8).

Priority Scripture places on pursuing peace

  • “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).
  • “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace …” (Romans 14:19).
  • “Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
  • “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy …” (Hebrews 12:14).

What to do when peace does not seem possible

This depends on the nature of the situation. If the person is part of a fellowship of believers, we must follow Biblical mandates for protecting the unity of believers. The steps Jesus taught begin with private confrontation (after the personal preparation of removing logs from our own eyes, Matthew 7:3-5). If private confrontation does not remove the wedge, we move to private conference involving the offender brother and two or three others (enlisting those who are spiritually prepared (Matthew 7:3-5), spiritually mature (Galatians 6:1), and entrusted with spiritual oversight (I Peter 5:1-4Acts 20:28).

This only becomes necessary, if the one confronted has as obstinate attitude (Matthew 18:16). When a sinning member of the church refuses to heed the confrontation of a fellow believer, thus refusing to be restored to proper fellowship, the circle of confrontation must broaden to include one or two others.

Those called to be part of the confrontation do not need to be eyewitnesses of the sin (If they had been, they should have gone to confront the member themselves). Ideally, it would be good to include people who are known and respected by the erring member but this is not always possible.

The one or two witnesses are involved “so that every fact may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (v.16). Their purpose is not to threaten or intimidate, but to help the erring brother to understand the seriousness of the matter. Their main purpose is not really to evaluate the truthfulness of the charge, but to strengthen the rebuke and the call to restoration. After private conference, if the erring member remains obstinate and unwilling to acknowledge and repent of the sin, Jesus teaches a fourth step.

Each of the four steps has as its primary aim the restoration of the brother to proper fellowship. The fourth step is public announcement (Matthew 18:17a). Jesus said, “Tell it to the church (the assembly).”

This step is a sobering reminder that sin is not merely a private and personal matter for Christians. Sin that separates and alienates believers, must be dealt with and resolved. But how do we take this step of public announcement? In our church (due to size), we’ve sometimes handled this in the adult fellowship group the member participates in. Other times, we’ve communicated to all the covenant members through a special meeting of the membership. Some churches make these announcements during communion. Others will use a letter to the membership.

All churches should clearly spell out the process in their documents and seek agreement from the membership to follow it. This step also involves the fellowship in some kind of public confrontation. In Matthew 18:17b, Jesus implies that the church (as an assembly) has made an appeal to the erring member.

When the church is informed, (which reasonably implies that the pastors will be involved) warnings should be made about the need for the whole assembly to avoid gossip, slander and a proud or critical spirit (Matthew 7:3-5Galatians 6:1). Members should not play spiritual detective or allow either a lenient or a punitive attitude. They should be encouraged to pray for repentance and restoration, and to appeal to their fellow member to submit to the leadership of the Church. In such an appeal, one might humbly say, “I don’t know all the details, nor is it my place to know them, but I do want to encourage you to make things right with the church.”

No one should give the erring member the feeling that he is in good fellowship with the Church (cf. II Thessalonians 3:12-14). Never act in cross-purpose with the church. We should not do anything that would cause disrespect for the leadership. Remember the goal: “Win your brother.” It is redemptive!

The final step Jesus taught is public exclusion: removal from membership. The primary aim of this step is to protect the purity of the assembly (see: I Corinthians 5:1-11). Failure to practice these steps invites God’s discipline on the entire assembly (see:I Corinthians 11:30-32Revelation 2:5,1620-233:3-19).”

Steve Cornell

God’s primary work on earth

When God has a job to be done, He works through people. God has chosen to work out His plan through active secondary participants. 

But what is God’s primary work on earth today? And how does He use people to accomplish it?

The answer is found in the promise of Jesus Christ – “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18).  

When the Lord Jesus went into heaven, He sent the promised Holy Spirit and through the Spirit He united believers into a body referred to as the body of Christ (Acts 1:4-5,8; John 14:15-17; I Corinthians 12:13).

In the absence  of Jesus physical presence, this assembly of believers in Christ is the visible testimony of Jesus Christ on earth today.

Although this body incorporates every believer from the day of Pentecost to the rapture of the Church, all the instructions for body life in the New Testament are intended for each local body of believers in every age.

Remember that, “God has placed the members each one of them in the body just as He desired” (I Corinthians 12:18) and “God has composed the body that there should be no division but that the members should have the same care for one another” (I Corinthians 12:24-25). Thus the apostle Paul says to the local church in the city of Corinth, “You are Christ’s body and individually members of it” (I Corinthians 12:27).

God’s purpose on earth today is to build a visible, united body of believers called the body of Christ, or the Church. The way we align ourselves with it is on the local level. Thus it is God’s design that every follower of Jesus Christ be a functioning part of a local body of believers. This is God’s will for you if you are a believer in Christ. 

God has called each believer into fellowship with His Son (I Corinthians 1:9). This is the joy of Christian living – that we have a personal and individual relationship with Jesus Christ who was dead but is alive forevermore, seated at the right hand of the Father, ever making intercession for us according to the will of God. This is a deeply personal joy of Christianity.

But, according to God’s design, what we enjoy on the individual level must become part of the public, corporate life of the church.

“No one Christian believer can fully enjoy the benefits of the grace of God in Christ, or fully express the new activities it makes possible, in isolation.” (A.M. Stibbs. T.N.T.C., I Peter, p. 156)

One of the most important and neglected truths of Scripture is the doctrine of the local church. The late Carl F. Henry warned the 1990 convention of the National Association of Evangelicals that: “Evangelicals continue to neglect the doctrine of the church and at high cost.”

Robert Patterson wrote an excellent article about this titled “In Search of the Visible Church.” 

Patterson observed how, “…commitment to the church appears to be at an all-time low among evangelicals…growing numbers of evangelicals are unwilling to commit themselves to any particular congregation. Operating as sovereign ecclesiastical consumers, they hop from church to church looking for the best spiritual “deal” in town.” I personally believe that there exists a desperate need today for a revival in the biblical understanding of the importance of the local church.”

“If the church is a nurturing mother for the souls of believers, as John Calvin proclaimed, those disconnected from her are nothing more than spiritual orphans. They are cut off from a vital source of spiritual nourishment and growth. They may think that spiritual fitness is an individual matter, but their failure to participate in the corporate life of God’s people can only stunt the kind of growth in grace that the apostle Paul envisioned in Ephesians 4” (R. Patterson, Christianity Today, Mar.11, 1991).

We must expose the tenuous division between commitment to the Lord and commitment to a local body of believers. I do not think that the Lord makes that distinction too sharply.

I will build my Church

  1. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said: “I will build my church”.
  2. In Luke 10:2, Jesus is called: “The Lord of the harvest who sends forth workers in His harvest.”
  3. The church is “the body of Christ.”
  4. Ephesians 5:25 says, “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”
  5. Ephesians 5:29 says, “Christ nourishes and cherishes the church.”
  6. In Acts 9:4, Saul was persecuting believers and Jesus stopped him and asked, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
  7. In Matthew 25 – during judgment the followers of Christ are shocked because Jesus identified a whole list of things that they did to him personally. Jesus cleared their lack of understanding by saying in verse 40, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”
  8. The author of Hebrews reminds the readers that, “God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints” (Hebrews 6:10). You show love to His name by serving His children.
  9. In I Corinthians 3:6, the apostle refers to human activity in building local churches, “I planted, Apollos watered but God was causing the growth.”
  10. In Acts 2:47 we learn that, “The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”

Ultimately anyone serving in any capacity in the church should view himself or herself as a direct servant of Jesus Christ (see: Colossians 3:23-24).

Patterson listed five action items to help the church regain this lost focus. Each of them is worthy of discussion but I’ll only give the first one:

“Evangelicals need to affirm aggressively the necessary connection between faith in Christ and commitment to his church. So-called solitary or independent Christians need to be incorporated into the life and discipline of some congregation. Those who are already church members need to remain committed to their church, taking seriously their accountability to the congregation and resisting the temptation to ‘jump ship’ when problems develop. At the same time, church leaders need to take more seriously their responsibility to discipline and nurture parishioners under their care.” (C.T. 3-11-1991, p.38)

If you want to stand in the gap in these days we live in and you want to align yourself with God’s plan, you need to be involved in a local body of believers. D.A. Carson recognized one of the reasons for a lack of emphasis being , “…a  theological suspicion that those who devote too much attention to the church are in danger of diverting attention from Christ himself” (Evangelical Affirmations).

Hopefully you understand from the above examples that the Lord Jesus does not recognize this distinction as sharply as some think. 

Robert Patterson’s concluded, “If evangelicals still value their heritage, they can lament the obscurity into which the church visible has sunk, a tragedy to which they have contributed in both word and deed. Furthermore, they can commit themselves toward a rediscovery of the church in our time, not just out of faithfulness to a tradition, but in devotion to their Lord who promised, ‘I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’”

Steve Cornell

Fellowship and Confession

confession_and_a_transparent_life_00014575_titleonlyLook closely at God’s plan for ongoing fellowship with sinners:
I John 1:5-10
5. This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.
6. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.
7. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another (the one – God, with the other – you), and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
8. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
9. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
10. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us (I John 1:5-9).
Four verbs of ongoing action:
  1. We walk – (peripatōmen)
  2. We fellowship – (koinōnian)
  3. He purifies – (katharizei)
  4. We confess – (homologōmen)
To fellowship with God is to share in common (koinōnian) His life by walking in the light (truth and righteousness). It is to see life from His perspective. It is to live, not by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:3). 
Sinning or walking in darkness (deception and unrighteousness) threatens to disrupt fellowship. But confession (homologōmen) – (speaking God’s verdict about our sin by naming it as He does) is God’s gracious provision for continued fellowship rather than broken fellowship. When we uncover our sin by confession, God covers it by purifying us (katharizei) from all unrighteousness. 
How is this possible?
“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins,and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:1-2).

Proverbs 28:13-14

“Whoever conceals (or covers) their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy. Blessed is the one who always trembles before God, but whoever hardens their heart falls into trouble.”

Psalm 32:1-5 – Two Responses to sin

  1. Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.
  2. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.
  3. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.
  4. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.
  5. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord. And you forgave the guilt of my sin.’”

Steve Cornell

Are you discouraged by disunity?

A church leader commented that they had not had conflict in their Church for years. Another responded, “Sure. No movement; no friction.”

We don’t want our churches to be like the married couple who said that they haven’t fought for years and then admitted that they also haven’t talked to each other for years. 

While Christians are supposed to be distinguished by their love for one another (John 13:34-35), please don’t conclude that  this means they won’t have conflicts.

God’s Spirit within us longs for unity among us, but experiencing such unity will not happen without effort. This is what stands behind the call to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

Some Christians become too easily discouraged by disunity because they hold unrealistic (or even utopian) notions of trouble-free fellowship among those who walk with God.

If you are praying for conflict-free fellowship, God might take you to the only place where this is possible – heaven. Conflict is unavoidable on earth, especially where sinners are joining together to advance God’s kingdom. 

There’s a reason why Jesus prayed for the unity of His disciples before leaving this world (see: John 17:20-23). Jesus placed our unity in the context of our witness to the world when He prayed, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). 

There are many threats to Christian unity but the key to unity in a Church is not the absence of conflict but a shared commitment to pursue reconciliation when conflict occurs (Matthew 5:23-24; 18:15-18).

But we also must have the maturity to understand that sometimes division is necessary. On one occasion, the Apostle Paul actually said, 

“….when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized (I Corinthians 11:18-19).

Most Christians would be surprised to observe how much of our New Testament is written to address issues of conflict, both potential and actual. 

A close look at the early church reveals points of division common to churches throughout history:

When you combine this list with the repeated emphasis on the need to maintain unity and purity in the church (e.g. Rom. 16:17; I Cor. 1:10; 5:7-13; Eph. 4:3; Phil. 2:3-5; 3:16; I Thess. 5:14-15; II Thess. 3:11-16; Ti. 3:10-11; I Pet. 3:8), it becomes even clearer that churches should expect many threats to unity.

Let’s call our churches to the priority of pursuing reconciliation when conflict occurs by following the two primary New Testament directives for resolving conflicts — Covering in love and Confronting in love  (seeTwo Principles For Resolving Conflicts)

“Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:10, NLT).  

Other resources for unity in the Church:

Steve Cornell

Overcome division with core values

Conflict management 101

“Virtually all theorists of conflict management agree that parties to a conflict must share larger or ultimate values in common as a basis on which to resolve their differences”  ( Hugh Halverstadt, Managing Church Conflictp. 212).

Two great examples

Two areas of difference among believers that could significantly disrupt unity are spiritual giftedness and opinions on debatable matters.

In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul addressed both of these and provided what might be understood as a “larger or ultimate value” to protect each area from becoming a source of conflict.

Each of the two guiding principles mandates a shared attitude required of all believers in all Churches at all times.

It is especially the responsibility of Church leaders (as protectors of the unity of the Church) to hold people accountable to these guiding attitudes (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 4:3; Romans 16:17-18; Jude 16). 

1. Romans 12:3 — Guiding attitude for Spiritual gifts

“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you” (NIV).

2. Romans 14:3 — Guiding attitude for debatable matters

“Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them” (NLT). 

Keep the main core value in view

Romans 15:5-7 —  join together with one voice…

“May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory” (NLT).

That we may be one!

Steve Cornell

Five motivations for protecting unity

1. The teaching of Jesus

Matthew 5:23-24  “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).  (see also: Matthew 18:15-17; Mark 11:25)

2. The prayer of Jesus

John 17:23 – Jesus prayed, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

3. The passion of God

Proverbs 6:16,19 – “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: …. a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”

4. The Word for the Church

Romans 16:17-18 – “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.”

Jude 16–  Watch out for those who have secretly slipped in among you.  “These people are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage.”

5. The witness of the Church

John 13:34-35 ““A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Philippians 2:14-16a “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life…”

Steve Cornell

See also: Two principles for resolving conflict